A heated council meeting in Rockingham has seen plans for an accommodation facility to help curb homelessness knocked back after hundreds of residents expressed concerns over their safety.
Despite calls from service providers for accommodation in the area, the proposal by St Patrick’s Community Support Centre to upgrade and use the existing two storey residential building, known as Penola House in Shoalwater, faced opposition from residents since the proposal was announced last year.
The council chambers at last night’s council meeting was packed, with more than 100 residents attending, many of whom were yelling out and heckling some councillors during debate, with one member of the public also asked to leave after swearing during public question time.
At almost every council meeting over the past six months, residents have spoken to express their opposition to the development, with the City also receiving 216 submissions regarding the proposal, of which 177 opposed it.
Residents opposed to the development have said they were concerned about safety issues the men may present to current residents, with many citing the area as full of family and retirees who could be put at risk.
One woman who spoke at this week’s meeting asked councillors if her recently widowed mother would be able to walk safely along the nearby beachfront at sunset if the proposal was approved, while another asked if his children would be safe in their home.
During debate, many councillors conceded that accommodation was needed in the area, but that the location of the proposal was wrong, with Councillor Andrew Burns saying that the men “would not be welcome in Shoalwater” if it went ahead.
As part of the vetting process for potential candidates, men with current drug and alcohol problems would not have been permitted.
Deputy Mayor Cr Deb Hamblin said she had “grave concerns” about the facility’s management plan and that she wanted people living near the facility to be able to feel safe.
One of only two councillors to vote in favour of the facility, councillor Katherine Summers said that she had found herself homeless twice before, and that she believed that people in need of the shelter should be given a “fair go”.
When saying that people in favour of the proposal had been “bullied into silence”, Cr Summers was heckled by members of the public.
“The tactics used in this anti-homelessness campaign have been disgusting. It has not been a fair fight,” she said.
When Cr Summers said that homeless people were being denied a voice in the debate, someone in the gallery yelled out “that’s because they don’t pay the rates”.
Cr Matt Whitfield also supported the proposal, saying that concerns of residents about anti-social behaviour would be addressed by police, however he was also heckled by the crowd, with some-one yelling out that police “were never around anyway”.
Cr Andrew Burns addressed the rates of homelessness across the country saying that “a fairly high number of Australians are a few missing pay checks away from homelessness”.
“I don’t buy into the idea that these people are dangerous, they are just down on their luck,” he said.
The refusal of the facility was backed by seven councillors.
Listing the main reasons for the refusal, Cr Hamblin said community opposition, the facility’s distance from services, and the scale of the proposal, the lack of full time supervision and security and the impact of the facility on nearby tourist attractions as reasons why many councillors did not support it.
The refusal comes just days after the Telegraph revealed homeless people in Rockingham have been forced to set up camp in the bush due to a lack of affordable accommodation options and crisis accommodation in the area.
Shelter WA chief executive Michelle Mackenzie said the number of people accessing specialist homelessness services in Rockingham had increased 33 per cent over the past three years and that 2087 people were on the waiting list for social housing in Perth’s south-west, with the average wait of 2 ½ years.
Homelessness advocate Jonathan Shapiera said the refusal of the application reflected that “the NIMBY attitude was taking hold”, and questioned where men at risk of homeless would be able to go.
“From someone who has been homeless myself, I am shocked at these people’s beliefs that people who are homeless or at risk are all drug addicts, alcoholics or criminals,” he said.
“Where else are these people going to go.”
St Patrick’s Community Support Centre housing and support services director Victor Crevatin said they were “assessing the ramifications of the Council’s decision”.
Advice from City officer’s to councillors recommended that Penola House be approved, however with its refusal, it could be taken to the State Administrative Tribunal for appeal.
Cr Chris Elliott said that it was “the devil of a difficult decision”, and that despite the “overwhelming” community opposition, there was no planning reason why it should have been opposed.
Mayor Barry Sammels addressed claims of threats being made to councillors and City staff ahead of the vote, and said he was “disappointed”.
Premier Mark McGowan said although this was a decision of Council, he urged it and the proponents to work together to find an alternative location.